Tonight's Bellator 141: Guillard vs. Girtz show in Temecula, CA marks the 2nd event for new play-by-play man Sean Grande, replacing longtime voice Sean Wheelock after he was named commissioner of the Kansas Athletic Commission. The 43-year-old Grande, who is best known as the popular radio play-by-play voice of the NBA's Boston Celtics, debuted last month in Connecticut on the "Lima vs. Koreshkov" card alongside Jimmy Smith, and will be the main man going forward.
Last month, the Three Amigos Podcast interviewed Grande on a variety of topics, including how he first got into the sports broadcasting business, how he preps for his commentaries, his learning and understanding of MMA, and whether or not he's planning to train in any martial art to better help familiarize himself with the sport.
TAP: You were born and raised in New York. How did you end up in Boston calling the action for the Celtics?
Grande: (Jokingly) Because Kenny Albert took all my jobs. When I was 12 or 13, and this is a true story, there was an article in the New York Times -- Kenny is 3-5 years older than I am, so I'm in high school, maybe a little younger -- and there's an article in the NY Times about Kenny, who was at NYU, and it says how he wants to be the voice of the Rangers and do all the New York teams when he grows up. And my mother actually showed this to me, and said "How are you going to get these jobs when Kenny Albert is already getting them?" and I'm like, "Can at least in my own house, can I get some support from my own mother? Could you possibly be behind me in my life's dreams and ambitions?" Instead she had to bring home the article. But [Kenny] enjoyed that story when I told it to him years later.
When you're a play-by-play guy, you go where the play-by-play is. I went to school in Boston, so I was based here for awhile and did Boston College and a lot of college stuff here locally. My first major job was in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is what it came down to in 1998, the two jobs that opened that summer -- when I was 26 or whatever it was -- the TV jobs in Minnesota for NBA, and in Nashville (because that was the new team in the NHL) . I ended up going NBA, and a guy who has been a hockey/baseball/football guy primarily for the first 20-something years of his life ends up as a lifer in the NBA, maybe setting the stage for a dramatic change of sport that would happen in 2015.
TAP: Recently, we interviewed UFC commentator, Jon Anik, who discussed the heavy amounts of prep that goes into commentary. What's your system, how much prep do you do, video watching, do you write your cards out by hand like he does, prepping info on future fights to talk about at the current event, etc?
Grande: Well you've come to the right guy so I've been doing this for literally hours in my life. This is what I tell any broadcasters of any sport when you're doing your charts. First of all, of course you can do everything on a computer if you want to. I do most of my work on a computer and then transfer it and write it onto cards, or in this case what I do is I have an art-y book that you buy at one of those arts and crafts stores and I just use one page for each of the fights on the main card with one side of the page for each fighter. Because what it's about, there's no one way to do it. It's about "do you know where the information is that you need when you need it?" And on top of that, the act of writing it versus using a computer to do all your stuff, that's how you learn it. You learn it by writing it, a lot of times you're not looking down, you just remember. That's how you memorize anything, is by writing it down.
In my case, there isn't enough time to watch all the video that I have to watch, because I have to watch video of the sport. It was especially difficult in the early months as May was turning to June, when I sort of knew what was happening but there weren't people I could [talk to]. This weekend I was with Big John McCarthy in San Diego at an MMA seminar for referees and judges, and the learning curve in the day-and-a-half I was there, that was just a masters level class for me. When you're starting so close to zero, you go through something like that and it's extraordinary. I couldn't do that six weeks ago because everything was very hush-hush and clandestine and there was a process, I couldn't do stuff like that. So now it's a lot easier for me to find different ways to prepare. I want to be able to ... if there's 33 submissions, I'd love to be able to --- and I can probably do maybe 15 of them of the top of my head --- know them instinctively, these are the things I'm learning. But even when I do it's because I want the base of knowledge. It's still Jimmy's job to explain what's happening and I still want to stand back and tell the stories. I just want my knowledge to be ... I want to know preferably when I'm asking him questions, as I did at [Bellator 140], 60% or 70% of the time I know what his answer is going to be but I want him to say it during the course of a fight. Eventually that number hopefully will be 100% where I sort of know everything myself [but] I still want him to say it.
Prep comes from watching the guys. The nice thing is you can watch a fighter's last three or four fights because you're not investing an hour to watch a whole fight and you learn things that way. I have a pretty good idea of what the lineup is going to look like for August 28th, so you can start to study those fighters and the different things that they've done. The hard part and the beauty for me was the prelims. Because on the one hand it added an extraordinary amount of work, on other hand what I need now are reps, over and over and over again with as many fights as possible to call. The most fascinating day I've had so far was the day we did the fighter interviews in Connecticut. For the prelims, not a lot of people are sticking around to talk to the prelim guys, so I was basically by myself and I got to spend 10-15 minutes with all of them and you hear these phenomenal stories. When you're thinking about fighters who are in prelims of major shows, these are people that have jobs. One of them is the head chef at Framingham Country Club and another one works with disadvantaged youth in Providence, and this is sort of the dream that they're chasing. To learn stories is sometimes harder because without all the mainstream coverage you don't see as many articles and news information, and therein lies the difference between doing this versus other sports. You have to get a lot of the background stuff yourself. Except for the top guys in the sport, you're not going to find a lot of biographical features and articles written about them.
TAP: Have you started training in any of the martial arts to better familiarize yourself with the sport?
Grande: It's a great question. I'm absolutely going to start taking jiu-jitsu. Also remember I'm also going to be travelling with Jimmy Smith and with Manny Rodriguez (who does the Spanish language telecast) as well. A lot of the people on the crew have done that, so it's a group of which you can't help but learn. But it's absolutely on my list of things to do, and I'm looking forward it.
TAP: We read your fantastic post on MMA Junkie. Do you enjoy writing and is that something we'll be seeing more of in the future, maybe even on Bloody Elbow?
Grande: I do enjoy it. I haven't been asked yet because everything has kind of happened very quickly, particularly in the last two weeks. On the one hand, I don't feel very overly qualified to write [about MMA]. I feel very qualified to write about Bellator 140, for example. I don't think there's anybody that knows that show and those fights better than I do, in the lead up and preparing for it and talking to every one of the participants and doing those fights and everything. But the big picture -- obviously you can tell from the piece -- I'm still very inherently respectful, and I want to contribute not just to Spike TV and Bellator, I would like to be a part of this [MMA] community, and that comes in time. I know others have parachuted in, done a couple of big shows and collected a check, but I'm here to do this as well as I can do it and be a part of this sport. If that becomes part of it -- writing blogs and doing stuff then sign me up.
Final thoughts from Sean Grande
Grande: What I said in the piece is what I would say here. I want people to tune in. Honestly I've got fans that know my work from all the other sports, and I know a lot of people sampled the show because of the curiosity of me doing it, but I want everyone to enjoy the Bellator MMA product going forward. Enjoy these shows, really enjoy Jimmy Smith because I think he's special (don't tell him I said that). Listen, a play-by-play guy often times can inadvertently interfere with the enjoyment, because if you don't like that guy, he's just the guy talking while you're trying to watch the show and it interferes with it. My goal is for people to enjoy the Bellator product; start drinking the Scott Coker Kool-Aid because -- I have and a lot of people have -- I think you're going to see some special things.
This is my sentiment, and I know people will want to choose sides and that will always happen, I think a strong Bellator is going to make the industry stronger. I think there's a lot of fun stuff ahead the next couple of years. I'm thrilled to be a part of it. I'm thrilled to learn from you guys, from fans, from everybody.
The full Sean Grande interview starts at the 31:35 mark of the audio player.
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